I'll be the first to admit that since growing this directory has to be a slow-build, I've started off this interview series by interviewing women who I already knew, many of whom I've become friends with after years of following their shops. I'm pleased to say that for the first time since starting this site, I'm sharing a brand that I learned about because of the directory. The whole point of this site is to get introduced to new, women-owned brands and shops, and Dolkii is exactly the kind of brand that I was excited to come across through Instagram.
Of course, one look at Dolkii, and it's easy to see why I would be immediately smitten. Shaiyanne Dar created and runs the online brand of graphic tees and accessories, and the Hawai'i inspired line immediately makes you wish that you were relaxing on the beach in one of her T-shirts. The brand is happy and colorful, and it feels even more positive once you know that proceeds from the Wahine collection are donated to Women's Fund of Hawai'i. Shaiyanne was kind enough to talk to me a little about her work with the non-profit, how Dolkii has evolved over the years, and what kinds of products customers can look forward to in the future.
Q: Let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of starting your business? What made you want to do this and how did you turn your idea into a reality?
A: Dolkii actually started as an online fashion blog in 2013. I was living in Brooklyn, New York and we had a terrible winter season which meant spending A LOT of time indoors so I poured that downtime into building a website where I could share my outfits and fashion tips. My sister Yasmin is actually the one who approached me asking if I would ever turn the blog into an online shop.
So, in May of 2015, we launched Dolkii’s online shop where we carried other brands like Free People, Mink Pink, and Somedays Lovin. Yasmin and I would go to the trade shows in Las Vegas to do our buys each season. That was a huge learning period for us because we quickly noticed the pieces our customers gravitated towards. By mid 2015, I moved back west to Los Angeles (I wanted to be closer to home and I was tired of East Coast weather!), so when I finally made the move, that is when we got serious about developing our own line instead of buying from other brands. I figured, our customers are only really buying these key pieces, why are we burning budget buying everything else? It took about a year for me to create the concept, find local contractors, go through the sampling process, and bulk production process but we finally launched and debuted our first collection at Honolulu Night Market in the summer of 2016.
Since then, the line has definitely evolved into what it is today, and I’m constantly paying attention to what my customers like when developing new products. Next year, I will be focusing heavily on developing pieces to outfit our girls along with our tees, like bottoms (pants and skirts) and intimates (mainly bralettes).
Q: What was your first product to take off or find enough success that you were encouraged to do more?
A: We had a romper called Romper Zoya that we debuted at Honolulu Night Market back in 2016 and we could not keep it in stock. We started out small with just two colors (black and maroon) and once we saw how successful the item was, we expanded to many colors. Eventually, we transitioned the brand to only focus on graphic tees but we had a fun run with Romper Zoya :)
Q: What were your friends and family’s reactions to you starting a business? Were you nervous to share it?
A: They were stoked at not surprised at all. I think I spent so much time complaining about whatever full-time job I was working and always saying “if I had my own clothing brand I’d do it this way instead”, so when Dolkii finally launched and they saw how happy it made me, they fully supported what I was doing!
Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about the decision to partner with The Women's Fund of Hawai'i and what that process has been like?
A: I’ve always wanted to create a brand with a purpose, and strong social good practices that parallel our own brand values, but it was always so hard for me to pick just one non-profit to support. There are so many issues deserving of our undivided attention. What I love about partnering with Women’s Fund of Hawai’i is that when you donate to their organization, you’re not just supporting one nonprofit, you’re supporting hundreds of causes across the state of Hawai’i who focus on bettering the lives of women and girls statewide. What I love most is that Dolkii’s partnership with WFH goes beyond just cutting them a check once a quarter. I’m constantly looking for creative ways to support their outreach from sharing their fundraising events with our followers to spotlighting grantees on our blogs. The impact they have on women and girls in our local community is incredible and I want every single one of our customers to feel empowered in that they are contributing to that impact with every item they buy from our Wahine Collection.
Q: I loved seeing your background in eCommerce and digital marketing since it’s similar to what I do. What would you say has been the number one thing you’ve learned from this that you apply to your business now?
A: Oh man, everything lol. I feel like it’s my biggest strength as a businesswoman and it’s how I was able to run my business solo for such a long time. Because of my past experience in managing eCommerce businesses 360, I was able to apply a lot of those skills to Dolkii and really balance the creative side of the business with the analytical side. I think a lot of companies think that the only way to scale an eCommerce business is to pour tons of budget into digital marketing and BOOM you achieve overnight success. But I’ve learned over the years that your success is only as strong as your customer lets it be. So if you’re not investing in the affinity of your customer, you will fail. I spend a good amount of time pouring over Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, etc. but I spend even more time engaging with my customers on Instagram. I feel like I have friendships with women who have supported Dolkii for years and I’ve never even met them lol! When new products launch, they are the ones I pay attention to
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about manufacturing in LA and what kinds of challenges that come with?
A: It’s been a learning process for sure. I’ve been making our products in LA for about 3 years now and each production cycle there is some type of challenge, from hitting delivery deadlines for our boutiques to brewing the perfect color for our tees without jeopardizing the feel of our fabric. I’m lucky in that I’ve been working with the same five contractors since the beginning (a patternmaker, a fabric supplier, a cut and sew house, a dyehouse and a screen printer) and the relationship I’ve built with them has been amazing. They understand what my goals are as a business where it comes to delivering high quality, affordable products, so they never ever cut corners just to shave off a few days of production. Our tee shirts are made from fabric to finish in Los Angeles; everything from the spinning of our fabric to the printing of our graphics. Each item doesn’t leave within a 5 block radius allowing me to have better control of the timeline and most importantly quality.
I think the key to manufacturing in LA is to develop a close relationship with a few key people in the industry that you can trust with making the best decisions for you. Respect them, and keep a calm demeanor. It’s SO easy to lose your temper when you are under production deadlines, and hit speedbumps along the way; believe me, I’ve been there many times! At the end of a stressful day, I have to remind myself, I’m not creating a cure for cancer, I’m just making super cute comfy tees and things happen!
Q: Favorite item in your shop currently?
A: Tee Tatas lol. It’s just so fun to wear and to see everyone’ reaction as they stare at all the boobies on my shirt as I’m walking in public is hilarious.
Q: What goals do you have for your business going forward?
A: I just opened an office in Los Angeles just a few blocks from my production teams so I could streamline operations and fulfillment easier. My goal by the end of 2020 is to open an office on Oahu. I’d love for it to be an office in the back and a store in the front where our customers can shop IRL; so many of our followers have been asking when we will be opening up a store! I will also be expanding our products in 2020 to outfit Dolkii babes from head to toe with our tees. So bottoms (pants and skirts) and intimates (bralettes) will be our focus on the product development side.
Q: What advice do you have for others looking to start their own brand?
A: Just go for it and be open to change as you’re going thru the process. When Dolkii first started, I wanted to be the biggest online shop from Hawai’i that carried bohemian brands, but as we evolved by learning more about our customer, that’s what lead to where Dolkii is at today. If I just stuck to the mindset of only buying from other brands instead of exploring opportunities to have my own private label, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
My other piece of advice is to be authentic and have strong brand values that resonate in every item you create. There are SO MANY brands out there… every day, something “new”. What set’s you apart and how can you show that to your customers? Creating a successful brand is more than just seeing something you like that another brand is doing and copying it, for me, it’s about creating a community of like-minded women who share the same values and expressing that in the form of clothing that I’m proud to wear.
Q: Lastly, let’s spread the love. What are a few of your favorite small shops owned by women that you personally shop from?
A: They’re all from Hawai’i:
Follow along with Shaiyanne: